CHRIS POWELL: Democrats strive to conceal failures of juvenile justice

Published on Monday, 12 July 2021 19:04

Fall out of bed and kill yourself in Connecticut and your state legislators well may introduce legislation memorializing you by purporting to do something about the manner of your demise.

These laws have little actual impact; mainly they aim to console the families of the victims. So Connecticut recently has enacted laws purporting to prevent "coercive" conduct by murderously bitter divorce litigants, reckless walking and driving around ice cream trucks, and kids playing with guns.

Meanwhile murders, shootings, and other crimes have been exploding in Connecticut's cities as the social disintegration there worsens.

So, New Britain legislators, how about a memorializing law that might actually do something important? You could call it "Henryk's Law."

Henryk Gudelski was the New Britain man killed last month as he was struck by a stolen car said to have been driven by a 17-year-old with a long criminal record who nevertheless had been freed by the juvenile justice system, one of the many young chronic offenders Connecticut won't punish.

Henryk's Law would end secrecy in juvenile court, thus exacting accountability from court officers and offenders alike, and imprison chronic offenders of any age who meet a standard of incorrigibility – if not a "three strikes" law, then a 10- or 20-strikes law.

State legislators, if not yet Governor Lamont, seem embarrassed by the New Britain atrocity, but the concern of Democratic leaders in the General Assembly is mainly about how to distract from the problem.

Last week House Speaker Matt Ritter pretended the problem is that juvenile court judges called to arraign young defendants at night don't have access to their criminal records. But such access would only facilitate a few more hours of temporary detention prior to adjudication of a juvenile's case. It would have no bearing on a sentence.

Ritter said he found this lack of access "shocking," as if he has been unaware of the historic secrecy of juvenile court. That secrecy may conceal a few other shocking things if the speaker ever dares to look.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney said Republican legislators are using the New Britain atrocity only to "score political points in an effort to push failed, excessively punitive policies from the '80s and '90s."

In fact the Republicans haven't proposed anything "excessively punitive." Their ideas are tentative and timid.

Looney continued: "Republicans lost all credibility on public safety when they were silent on the U.S. Capitol insurrection, refused to fund proven urban gun violence prevention programs, and sought to defund or underfund many critical urban aid programs. Law and order is an issue for Republicans only when they can target the urban youth of our state but not when their political base tries to overthrow our democracy and kills a U.S. Capitol police officer."

OK, Republicans are awful, but Looney's demagoguery doesn't address the atrocity in New Britain.

As for those "excessively punitive policies from the '80s and'90s," Henryk Gudelski's survivors might not find an incorrigibility law so excessive.

Instead of distracting from the failing juvenile justice system, legislators more conscientious and less demagogic, ideological, and partisan than Looney might consider the experience recounted last week by New Britain's police chief, Christopher W. Chute.

The chief said nine juveniles are "the worst offenders" in his city, having been arrested an average of 18 times between the ages of 12 and 17. One has been arrested 25 times on charges including assault on a police officer and evading responsibility. Another has been arrested 40 times since age 12 on charges including assaulting officers, armed robbery, burglary, and car theft.

Connecticut, Chief Chute noted, tells juvenile offenders "there are no consequences for your actions." He added: "Most of these problems started a decade ago when the juvenile age was raised from 16 to 18."

Indeed, two years ago Senator Looney and the General Assembly's Democratic majority enacted a law imposing secrecy even on the trials of juveniles and young adults charged with rape and murder. Fortunately the federal courts found the law unconstitutional, but it remains a monument to the Democratic objective with juvenile justice: to conceal the expensive and even deadly failure of their policies.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Monday, 12 July 2021 19:04. Updated: Monday, 12 July 2021 19:06.